‘Wala pa ring pagbabago. Marami pa rin ang namumulot ng basura para mabuhay,’ remarked Japanese filmmaker Hiroshi Shinomiya during an open forum on the documentary Basura. His disturbing film puts real faces to the issues of poverty and hunger in the Philippines. The heart-wrenching scenes include girl prostitutes waiting for clients at Avenida, young boys fighting for position atop a mound of trash, a distraught mother mulling her health care bills, and a cute baby’s face covered with flies.
In 1989, Shinomiya worked on a documentary dealing with poor families scavenging in the Smokey Mountain dumpsite in Manila. His subjects were the Paz family and the Pascual family. The film was titled Scavengers: Forgotten Children and released in 1995.
Twelve years later, Shinomiya came back to the Philippines and re-traced the lives of the two families. The film Basura initially shows some good news. The Smokey Mountain dumpsite was closed down in the mid-1990s. The family of Christina Paz lives in a modestly-furnished unit at a government housing project. Her husband JR works at a junk shop. Their three female children diligently go to school. But, when Christina became pregnant and attempted to abort her child, things turn bad. When she gave birth, her baby had to undergo several tests. The mother and infant had to stay for a while at the hospital. Their hospital bill has risen so high her husband had to take out loans. The family members went back to scavenging at the Aroma dumpsite in Manila.
The Pascual family also had their share of bad luck. The 61-year old Illuminada says that she has lost 5 children. Three children died and 2 remained missing. She lives with her unemployed daughter Naty in a ramshackle hut in the middle of a farm in Butuan City, Agusan del Norte. She works as a househelp, which earns her 80 pesos a day. She still cannot get over the death of Emong. Her son allegedly committed suicide inside a jail.
Lack of health care insurance and lack of access to legal help are just some of the countless problems faced by the marginalized poor in large cities. The children's dream of finishing school go down the drain due to lack of money. Data from the National Statistical Coordination Board showed that the number of poor Filipinos – living on a little less than 42 pesos a day – rose to 27.6 million in 2006 from 25.5 million in 2001.
Director Shinomiya, fluent in the Filipino language, also noted that as long as the feudal system is dominant in the country, poor people will continue trooping to metropolitan cities because farming benefits mostly the landowners. He remarked that the Philippine government is not wealthy enough to provide the needs of the poor. He made the documentary with the goal of getting help from fellow Japanese. Through volunteers and cash donations, he established the Basura Foundation, which is managed by Christina Paz. The foundation does its own share of alleviating poverty and hunger at the Aroma dumpsite. Happy ending?
The film ends with a shot of a young kid scavenging through the sea of trash. Will he/she be able to earn enough money to buy a meal?